CINCINNATI — Friends and family remembered the man who "bridged a gap for brotherhood and unity" in the Cincinnati Fire Department Thursday, mourning the loss of 78-year-old former fire chief Thomas Steidel.
Joining the fire department in 1968, Steidel worked his way up fire chief — sharing his passion for the service with child who would one day become succeed him.
"Chief Steidel and I have known each other well over 35 years," said Chief Michael A. Washington Sr. "[He] was a district chief in District One in OTR, and I was a young person living in OTR, so I had seen Chief Steidel at numerous fires."
A picture in Washington's office shows some of the firefighters the then 7-year-old got to hang out with at Engine 5 on McMicken and Vine. Many of those firefighters were out in full force, saying goodbye to their friend and colleague.
Steidel went on to hire Washington in 1993 — one of his first recruit classes. Washington said Steidel cared deeply about race relations in the 80s and 90s, helping make his leadership possible.
"He was one of the fire chiefs that bridged the gap for brotherhood and unity in the fire department," Washington said.
While Washington said the torch he carries on is heavy, he's well-prepared — especially with the guidance Steidel has given him in his final days. He visited Steidel days before his death.
"He was very proud of me as a person, a man and a fire chief," Washington said. "I was able to get pearls of wisdom even in last days...shared some things that helped me along the way of being a good fire chief."
Washington said Steidel told him sometimes the decisions he makes will not be popular, but if they are for the safety of people, they are the correct decisions. He said he will carry that wisdom with him, passing it down to his son, who is now a firefighter.
"If it had not been for the relationship between Chief Steidel and myself, I couldn't stand on his shoulders and my son couldn't stand on my shoulders," Washington said.
Washington said when people go to sleep at night, there are people at the gate keeping them safe — like firefighters and police officers. That is why he said honoring their lives is so important.